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7 signs you're a highly sensitive person — even if you're a chatty extrovert

HSP describes people who have a lower threshold for some physical and emotional stimuli.

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As a child, Sylina Lyew always felt something was wrong with her. She sought out quiet environments. She struggled taking tests or playing the violin in public, faltering under the pressure. And she felt easily flooded by her emotions.

"In early adulthood, I realised that I was just more sensitive than other people," Lyew, now a licensed mental health therapist, told Business Insider.

Lyew identifies as a highly sensitive person or HSP, a term popularised by psychology researcher Elaine Aron. It describes people who have a lower threshold for some physical and emotional stimuli.

While she said that high sensitivity was never officially covered in her psychology training, Lyew said it helps her understand herself and her clients better.

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Imi Lo, a mental health consultant who works with highly sensitive clients, said that more awareness of HSPs is important.

"The worst is when you don't know that you are highly sensitive, and then you've been told all your life that you're weird and problematic and dramatic," Lo said.

Lo and Lyew shared seven traits experienced by highly sensitive people.

HSPs "can be quite physically sensitive," Lo said, whether they're bothered by uncomfortable clothing, strong smells, or loud noises.

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Lyew said that avoiding violent movie scenes and jump scares is a hallmark HSP trait. She likes to watch movies at home so she can fast-forward through the uncomfortable parts.

While people with ADHD and autism might also have sensory sensitivities, Lo said that being highly sensitive doesn't mean you have these diagnoses.

"There's definitely an overlap, but they're not the same," she said.

In her original research on HSPs, Elaine Aron estimated that one in five people fit her criteria for being highly sensitive — this is higher than the number of people who have ADHD or autism.

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Aside from absorbing their physical environments, HSPs also are sensitive to their emotional environments. Lo said that many of her clients "report walking into a room and sensing the tension."

If someone in a group is visibly sad or frustrated, HSPs will often notice and be more bothered by it. "Sometimes, they don't really consciously know it, but they can walk out of a room and feel absolutely exhausted," Lo said.

In a blog post, Aron wrote: "When seeing photos of their loved ones being unhappy, sensitive persons also showed more activation in areas suggesting they wanted to do something, to act, even more than in areas involving empathy."

After an unpleasant interaction, Lo said HSPs can even experience physical symptoms, such as migraines or sleepiness.

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Because HSPs can get more easily overwhelmed by physical stimuli, Lo said they might experience burnout faster and often need more time to replenish their energy.

Lyew said that some HSPs, like herself, are introverted. For example, she avoids partying and seeks out quiet environments where she can really think.

But both Lo and Lyew said that HSPs can also be extroverted — they may just need more time to recharge.

"Some people really replenish from companions and talking through things, some people really need to curl up in bed," Lo said.

Lo said that HSPs knowing themselves and their ideal ways to recharge is really important. "It's not that they are more weak or fragile, it's just that they're more particular," she said. "So they need rest and a particular way of self-care to replenish their energy."

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Due to being more sensitive, HSPs also tend to crave deeper connections.

"It doesn't necessarily mean they have very deep conversations, although that usually helps," Lo said. "But it could just be a shared quiet space where they energetically feel each other's presence."

Even more extroverted HSPs prefer having fewer, long-lasting relationships over making a new friend every week, according to Lo.

While HSPs don't always hate small talk, Lyew said it can drain their energy.

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"I think sometimes small talk is necessary so it's unavoidable, but in general, with our personal relationships we have a need to talk about deep topics," she said.

Just like reacting to lots of physical stimuli, HSPs can also get emotionally overwhelmed, Lyew said.

"In relationships, we get flooded very easily," she said. "We usually need to take more time to calm down and to sort out our thoughts."

This can make heated arguments more complicated, as HSPs often need space to withdraw and collect their thoughts.

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Due to being easily overstimulated, HSPs often don't do well under pressure, Lyew said.

"We usually don't test as well," she said. Standardised tests or performances can be especially difficult.

Being put on the spot can also cause a highly sensitive person's mind to go blank.

"I remember one time I was in a work meeting and they called on me without me being prepared mentally," Lyew said. "So they asked me a question and I knew the right answer, but I gave the wrong one in the moment."

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Sometimes, HSPs do perform well – but experience extreme stress throughout the experience. In her blog post, Aron referenced a German study where "HSPs were faster and more accurate, but also more stressed than others" after completing a computer task.

While Lo said it's a bit of a stereotype that HSPs are always artsy, she believes that some people "are drawn to art because they feel quite misunderstood for most of their life."

For some HSPs who struggle to fit in, making and appreciating art helps them connect with themselves and other HSPs.

Lyew said that being hyper-perceptive also helps HSPs excel in other professions. "Being able to see those issues is what allows us to be better in whatever we're doing," whether HSPs are teachers, managers, or parents.

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It's why Lo thinks the highly sensitive label can be really helpful for some people. "If you know that you are highly sensitive, then you can actually do things to manage your sensitivity, and even use it as a strength," she said.

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